The Port Authority Is a Disaster and Should Be Disbanded

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 13 2014 3:59 PM

The Port Authority Is a Disaster and Should Be Disbanded

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Ceci n'est pas un port.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

One important subtheme in the Chris Christie George Washington Bridge scandal is that whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey shut the lanes in question down on Christie's orders or merely as part of a rogue Christie-aligned scheme, the authority was staffed with Christie's political cronies. That's par for the course in terms of Port Authority staffing, but it's literally the opposite of the stated purpose of creating independent agencies.

The theory was that you needed an independent agency controlled by a joint N.Y./N.J. board to supervise projects of interest to both state. The reality has been for governors of both New York and New Jersey to treat the authority is a kind of neither fish nor fowl piggy bank to be milked for parochial interests. Meanwhile there are no meaningful synergies between operating a small subway station, running the Atlantic City Airport, and operating a container port. The whole thing should be broken down and disbanded:

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  • Put the bridges and tunnels under the control of MTA Bridges and Tunnels which runs the city's other bridges and tunnels, and in exchange give New Jersey Transit a fixed share of toll revenue from the Hudson River crossings.
  • Put the PATH train under the control of New Jersey Transit, which runs other commuter trains into Manhattan.
  • Let the various airports all go their separate ways. They don't need to be managed by a single entity.
  • Give AirTrain JFK to the NYC Subway.
  • Sell the random real-estate holdings.

This would then leave you with the actual seaports. I have no idea whether it's actually true that seaport management in this context requires a bistate agency. Maybe a rump Port Authority could keep running them. Or maybe they could be split up. But either way there's no need for a seaport administrating entity to become this regional transportation monstrosity. The MTA and New Jersey Transit are hardly perfect agencies, but at least we know which governor to blame for their failings!

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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